Karen Helf continues to give us her insights straight from the grounds of the Western & Southern Open. After her Tuesday’s and Wednesday’s coverage, she’s reporting on how the final eight of the tournament shaped up, with detailed accounts from matches Karolina Pliskova vs. Jelena Jankovic and Sloane Stephens vs. Ana Ivanovic. Karen also attended Serena Williams’ press conference and is mentioning the problem of fatigue that is troubling players. Our photographer Omar Boraby took a day off on Thursday, but he’ll continue to post his galleries on Friday.
On Thursday the sun returned. And it is evident that I am not pacing myself well after leaving the grounds at 1AM last night. There were a few retirements today, including Victoria Azarenka. I always wonder how players handle their schedule week after week. Recently players have been more vocal about fatigue.
Back in her day, Chris Evert was able to skip the French Open and some players did not play Australia at all. That decision would be unusual today and would likely result in a fine. The 2015 WTA calendar includes 22 Premier events alone.
Today the season starts in January with a “Super Bowl”, aka the Aussie Open, and ends in November. So players are not resting at year-end, if they want a good start. It is easy to forget players are people, not super heroes or machines.
Today’s first match demonstrates this very thing. Back on Center Court, Belinda Bencic fell to seasoned opponent Lucie Safarova. After a first set loss at 6-2, she retired at the start of the second. Bencic cited a wrist injury as the culprit. Final score 6-2, 0-0.
While advancing, Lucie also earned an advantage over her next opponent Elina Svitolina, with an easy pass today. Lucie is part of a group of players who are successfully mixing doubles and singles play and reaping dividends. Safarova captured the doubles title at the Australian Open with partner Bethanie Mattek-Sands. She nearly won both titles in Madrid.
If you have never taken in a doubles match, do yourself a favor and catch a Lucie & Sands, Hingis & Mirza or Errani & Vinci match. You won’t be disappointed. Fast paced with team dynamics, doubles is exciting on another level.
As expected, Sara Errani and Flavia Pennetta advanced today, as did Hingis & Mirza, so you still have a chance.
Serena was back on Center Court facing Italy’s Karin Knapp. She earned a quick win at 6-0, 6-2. Post match she said that her coach Patrick gave her some helpful advice, but wouldn’t share details.
I headed to Stadium 3. With the stands packed to capacity for Sloane Stephens and Ana Ivanovic, I could not enter. So I shifted course, heading to the Grandstand.
Crowd favorite Jelena Jankovic and 7th ranked Karolina Pliskova were battling. I arrived in the third set, 2-6, 6-3, 3-2. Jelena was down a break and Pliskova was hitting the lines. At 40-15, Jelena received a coaching violation. Karolina held serve to 4-2
Jelena’s next service game was rocky at 15-40, under pressure she missed the lines, extending Pliskova’s lead to 5-2. Momentum began to shift during Karolina’s next service game. Jelena ripped a forehand to reach 0-30. Karolina missed a lob and Jankovic hit a winner down the line, Jelena climbed back to 5-3.
Back on serve Jelena double faulted to 15-15. She approached the net missing a volley to 15-30. As the wind gusts blew, Karolina also had trouble keeping balls in play. Despite a double, Jelena held at deuce with a 104MPH serve, an overhead winner and finished with an ace to reach 5-4.
Karolina’s next service game had two double faults. From there she could not hold on. Jelena was now back in the match at 5-5. Jelena’s next service game was compelling. Pliskova stuck with what was working earlier hitting the corners. A Jankovic error drew crowd applause and she addressed it.
At 30-40 she served a 106MPH winner, but then netted at deuce. Jelena eventually found her passing shots and closed with 103MPH serve followed by a backhand winner.
Karolina’s final service game failed her despite a 105MPH serve. Match point ended with a Pliskova drive going long. The final score 6-2, 3-6, 7-5.
Jelena, a former Western & Southern champion, spoke of her appreciation for crowd support. She blew kisses and acknowledged that they helped her pull through.
I returned to Stadium 3, successfully catching the end of Sloane and Ana. Ana was already ahead 3-0 in the third. Sloane was on serve 15-30. She doubled, giving Ana 15-40. The next point Sloane netted a return, putting Ana up 4-0.
With Ana on serve, Sloane continued netting balls. Despite a double from Ana, she held serve closing with 106MPH serve. Sloane’s return sailed long. Sloane held her next service game avoiding the bagel with corner winners and attacking the net for 5-1.
As Ana served for the match. Sloane regrouped, but it was a little too late. Sloane delivered match point driving a net ball. Ana advanced, 2-6,6-4, 6-1. Next up, Ana plays Serena.
It seemed Serendipitous that my next stop was Serena’s press conference.
Serena reinforced that she felt she needed to stay calm and poised. When asked about her Rogers Cup performance, she mentioned that she typically played Stanford which gave her more time to shake the rust off of her hardcourt game. Skipping Stanford this year, she put more pressure on herself.
When the subject of Victoria Duval came up, Serena got philosophical. She stated that Victoria is an inspiration. Her courage reminded Serena what matters in life. She described Duval as a great young player with a bright future.
She acknowledged with Vicky’s past success at the US Open, a main draw wildcard seemed appropriate. Lastly, she confirmed Venus is feeling better.
The eight contenders left in the main draw all play Friday to decide the final four. The field is an interesting mix with four ranked inside the top ten, the others ranked 20 or below. Friday could be a day of upsets.